While the Birmingham NEC crowds were on the edge of their seats, enthralled by the tense finale to the British Open show jumping championship, 26-year-old Robert Whitaker and Lacroix 9 overcame the pressure to retain the title he won here last year and take the £25,000 first prize.
Despite feeling at a slight disadvantage having to rely on one horse for the four-day competition, Robert was full of praise for his mother’s 14-year-old gelding.
“He likes it here,” said Robert. “He always comes out fresh and he likes the attention. The [format] is a bit tough on the horses, particularly if you’ve only got one horse to jump. But when you go to shows with him you always know you’re going to win something.”
The championship is decided on a cumulative points system with the eight lowest-scoring riders making it through to the final jump-off.
Robert arrived in pole position, with just a fence in hand from his nearest rival, the Netherlands’ Nathalie Van Der Mei (Heechhiem’s Springtime) on a score of 5.5 and Robert Smith (Vangelis S) snapping at their heels with 7.5.
The other five finalists — including Britain’s Ellen Whitaker (Equimax Ocolado) and Nick Skelton (Nemo 119) — all faulted over the testing track, allowing the last three riders a bit of breathing space. Vangelis and Springtime both put in faultless rounds, meaning the title would be decided by last-to-go Robert Whitaker’s performance.
Lacroix, who has been consistent throughout the show, was never going to let the side down and put in one of the best rounds of the day to go clear and retain Robert’s British Open crown.
1, Robert Whitaker (Lacroix 9) GBR
2, Nathalie Vand Der Mei (Heechhiem’s Springtime) NED
3, Robert Smith (Vangelis S) GBR
See H&H (30 April) for full report and the rest of the action from the show.